Treasures for Lioness Tango

Tango check out one of her birthday presents.

Happy birthday, Tango! Our oldest lion turned 20 on August 12, 2012, and is doing great.

It was hard to pick which of Tango’s many treasures we should offer her on her big day. Our big cat fans already know she loves her bones and many rope toys, but she also loves pumpkins. Yes, pumpkins! She responds to them in the same manner she does to ropes and bones.

We recently placed one on exhibit for her. Once she spotted it out front, she went right for it and carried it back to her bed, where she likes to keep her treasures. She also has a fire hose toy, which, of course, always ends up in one of her “beds.” She collects boxes as well. This summer we have been putting more beds around her exhibit. Currently she has been favoring the bed in her grass area. She carries her treasures around with her from bed to bed, depending on the time of day and her preference.

A new rope toy for Tango!

We also have been playing tug-o-war with her. There is one rope toy in particular she loves to tug on. We have a special chute in her door that allows us to safely play tug-o-war with her. She gets very excited and vocal, chattering away while we put her rope in place. She continues to talk while she’s playing and after she wins. Tango always wins. I have to admit that it is not much of a war when playing with Tango—she is super strong for her old age! Tango uses her whole body to tug, which gives her great exercise that strengthens her muscles.

Since it was hard to pick just one of Tango’s treasures to give on her birthday, we offered her a birthday box containing a rope toy, her bone, and as many ropes as she could carry! Tango had a great day, moving from bed to bed with her treasures. The hardest part of her day was deciding which treasure to take where!

Beth McDonald is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Lioness Tango: A Girl and Her Toys.


Lioness Tango: A Girl and Her Toys

Golden girl Tango

Read Beth’s previous post, Lioness Tango: One of a Kind

Tango is a very playful lion, especially considering she is 19 years old. Her current most-prized possession is her rope toy. When she sees it, she gets so excited. She carries it around with pride, and she always keeps it at her side. If we hide it, she finds it and brings it back to her bed. Tango gets bones several times a week, and even they come in a distant second behind her rope toy. Some days we put her bone or her rope toy or both in her bedroom; she carries out onto exhibit whichever item she wants the most that day. Some days she picks her bone, but most days she picks her rope toy. If both are in her bedroom, we leave the door open, and she goes out with her first pick and takes it to her bed, puts it down, then comes back to get her second pick and takes it to her bed.

She also enjoys batting around her ball. Tango takes her ball to the lower side of her exhibit, lies down, and uses her paw to roll the ball up, then she waits for it to roll back down, then she bats it back up, then waits for it to come back down, etc.

We strive to stimulate as many natural behaviors as possible, and although we may use unnatural things like her rope toy and ball, we can still bring out those natural behaviors. Just a few examples include hiding her rope toy in her exhibit to stimulate hunting and nesting behaviors. Not all hunting behaviors are about food. Lions hunt for the best territory, or they hunt for the most shade-providing tree to sleep under. We use different scents like perfumes or spices to stimulate her sense of smell, and we change around her environment to stimulate her visually.

Tango emerges from her cave bed.

Tango is all about her hay bed. She usually has two beds in her exhibit: her main bed, back in her cave, and her front bed, which is closer to the viewing area. Tango prefers to chew on her bone in her cave bed. Anything of value to her she collects and brings to her main bed. One day I saw her rearranging all of her collectables. Her ball was to the left, but she didn’t want it over there, so she moved it to her right side. Then she moved her rope toy in front of her to use as a pillow. Her bone was to the right, but she wanted it to the left. She looked over her bed and then started rearranging again. She moved her rope toy up a little, maybe a foot, and after a little more adjusting, though she had no intention of doing anything with these items right then, she had her bed arranged exactly how she wanted it. Then she went to sleep.

Beth McDonald is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Lioness Tango: One of a Kind

Tango, our Transvaal lion, is 19 years old. Lions live for around 20 years in zoos, which makes Tango an elderly lioness. She and her sister, Mweezi, were born at the San Diego Zoo on August 12, 1992 (see Golden Girls in Their Golden Years).  Tango and Mweezi were their own pride for almost 10 years until, sadly, Mweezi passed away in July 2009.  As lions live in prides, we needed to give Tango extra care and attention to fill the void left by the loss of her sister.

One instinctual lion characteristic is its roar. Lions use their roar as one form of communication. It identifies individuals, strengthens the pride’s bond, and lets other animals know of the pride’s domain. After Mweezi’s passing, Tango’s roar became a little shorter and a little weaker. We suspected that it may be because her roar was going unanswered. Hali O’Connor is Tango’s favorite keeper; she takes care of her five days a week. Tango and Hali have a very strong bond, so Hali started answering Tango’s call with a roar of her own. Hali and Tango roared together every day, and we started to notice that Tango’s roar was becoming longer and stronger. Soon, Tango’s calls had returned to the roar that she used to communicate with Mweezi. To this day, anytime Tango calls, we answer.

Aside from roaring, Tango loves to vocalize. She grumbles while she chews on her bone, when we talk to her, when she’s showing affection (rubbing her scent glands on the door where we are standing), when she is grooming her rope toy, and when she’s sitting in a fluffy bed. I could go on forever, but we’ll just say she is a very vocal cat! One day Tango and I were talking, and she started falling asleep as she was talking to me. I thought “she’s talking her self to sleep!” Tango is one of the most comical cats I have ever worked with. She is truly one of a kind.

I’ll share more about Tango and her wonderful personality in a future post. There is much to share about this beautiful cat!

Beth McDonald is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Langur Name Revealed.